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Workplace support ‘protects against burnout’

Healthcare professionals see reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety as a result, study finds

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The feeling of being supported in the workplace can protect healthcare professionals against burnout and mental health challenges, new research has revealed. 

A new study found that feeling unsupported at work was associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, insomnia, burnout, and mental wellbeing, compared to those who felt supported. 

And when these people were followed up, those with improved feelings of workplace support were also shown to have improvements in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mental wellbeing over time.

The CoPE-HCP study was designed during the early part of COVID-19 pandemic, when there was great concern for the mental health of healthcare professionals with no scientifically-proven mitigating strategies to reduce that impact. 

The study – funded by Barts Charity and led by researchers at Queen Mary University of London – is among the first to evaluate the relationship between changes in feeling supported at work and changes in mental health and burnout over time in healthcare professionals, and identifies the specific workplace aspects valuable to protecting their mental health during pandemics.

It involved two online surveys assessing the rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, burnout, and low mental wellbeing. 

In both surveys, 22 per cent of healthcare professionals felt unsupported in the workplace, which rose to one in four (25 per cent) HCPs feeling this just a few months later. 

Compared to those who felt unsupported, those who felt supported had a decreased risk of depression (58 per cent reduction and 56 per cent reduction at baseline and follow-up, respectively), anxiety (58 per cent reduction and 39 per cent reduction), insomnia (42 per cent reduction and 54 per cent reduction), emotional exhaustion (65 per cent reduction and 55 per cent reduction), and a three-fold increased risk of good mental wellbeing.

Furthermore, improved perceptions of workplace support was associated with reduced depression and anxiety symptoms, and increased mental wellbeing symptoms over the four month period.

Many healthcare professionals in the study also spoke of their desire for managers who listened and left staff feeling understood, and they valued consistent clear and transparent information sent on a timely manner. 

Additionally, adequate staffing was highly important, and qualities such as visible and approachable leadership, and camaraderie and solidarity amongst peers were also valuable.

Dr Ajay Gupta, senior author, chief investigator and clinical reader at Queen Mary and Honorary Consultant in Clinical Pharmacology and Cardiovascular Medicine, said: “This important study not only demonstrates the consistent association between workplace support and mental health and burnout in healthcare professionals, but for the first time it shows that the feeling of being supported significantly protects them against developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. 

“We have furthermore demonstrated what constitutes effective workplace support – simple things such as increased visibility of senior leaders and approachability can do wonders, aside from other measures. 

“These findings will be able to inform significant changes in the workplace guidance targeted at improving mental wellbeing in healthcare professionals.”

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